The statement “children are the future” has become so common that it is a cliché. As someone who works with young people, I have said the phrase more than a few times. I always said it with the best intentions to audiences of well-meaning adults who sagely nodded their heads with me. My desire was to convey how children are precious and worth our care and investment. I wanted my audience to understand that children will one day grow up to fill the shoes of the leaders, thinkers, and makers of our time. While these statements are true to some extent, they are incomplete.
In an effort to paint a picture of the future, I overlooked the present. I inadvertently was sending the message that children were valuable only because they would grow up to be adults — that they did not have value and capabilities now. Thankfully, Jesus saw children as the now.
But Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. (Luke 18:16)
As an adult, I often centered myself in this passage and tried to discern what children symbolized for me. Based on the story, I understood them to represent people without status who were completely trusting and dependent on their provider. These are good lessons and a faithful interpretation of this passage. We all should approach God with a humble, reliant attitude. However, what if we did not look for symbolism and looked at the interaction between Jesus and the children?
Jesus actively pursued the children, despite the fact that adults were getting in the way. He talked about their present value to the kingdom and implied that adults had things to learn from children. I do not believe that Jesus was speaking purely symbolically. I believe that he meant that children are presently contributing citizens of the kingdom of God and they have their own connection to Christ.
I am a witness to the extraordinary things God can do in and through young people. A wonderful young lady I will call Rose comes to mind. Rose is a year older than my daughter and the two of them became friends because they sang in the same choir at school. Rose’s faith in Jesus caused her to make a significant impact on our town. When one of her classmates died from a lung condition, Rose helped create a scholarship in his name and organized a benefit concert to raise funds. She also organized the first school-wide Black History Month Celebration, which is now an annual gathering attended by the community. Rose has a gorgeous voice and boldly sang praise songs at both events. She lives her faith out loud and, as a college student, continues to sing praise songs on Instagram. I could say more about this incredible person, but I believe my point has been made. Rose is one example of the powerful things that can happen when young people are given a chance to go where the Spirit leads them.
Adults are very good at creating spaces where children can learn from us. However, how good are we at creating spaces where we can learn from them? When we interact with children, do we expect that they have something to teach us? It is true that children are the future. However, if we follow Jesus’ example, we will see that children are the now.
Dishon Mills, GCI Generations Ministry Coordinator